Vote on March 2—For President: Howard Dean
Thursday, February 26, 2004
First off, let’s agree to immediately dispense with this “Anybody But Bush” hogwash. That kind of wishy-washy, negative rhetoric makes it sound as if there are no truly worthy candidates in this race, when in fact that has never been true and it is not true now.
The fact is that John Kerry and John Edwards are both strong candidates and principled men. Either would make a fine president. While we can’t endorse either of them this week, they both deserve support on their merits. Neither is as liberal as Joe Lieberman would have us believe or as conservative as Dennis Kucinich says they are. They are both smart and capable, willing to make hard choices and yet able to build consensus.
And it still appears possible, as this issue goes to press, that California voters may have some say in who the Democratic candidate for president will be. On Super Tuesday, more than 1,150 delegates will be up for grabs in primaries and caucuses in 10 states. That’s about the same number of delegates as have already been won in the past nine weeks combined. John Edwards could pull an upset—this primary season has already seen some sharp turns and it could happen again.
So the choice is difficult. But we urge a vote for neither the frontrunner nor his main challenger. Howard Dean is our man, still.
Why vote for a man who can’t win? There is one good reason and one better reason. The good reason is that with or without our vote, John Kerry or John Edwards will win, and neither one is vastly superior to the other. Given a choice between two mainstream millionaire Senators, we say that either one will do. California Democrats who passionately believe NAFTA should be repealed ought to vote for Edwards (we don’t, because isn’t going to happen); and those who admire war-heroes-turned-antiwar-activists-turned-senators should pick Kerry (we do, but not enough).
But this is a primary, and we live in the biggest state in the union, and we feel we should be able to vote for the best Democrat in the field and not just pick between the two guys who made it through the media gauntlet that runs from Iowa to Wisconsin.
That is the better reason to vote for Howard Dean. He is (or was) the one candidate who really deserves our vote. If that sounds too earnest, we are happy to risk being overly earnest on this topic.
There are many ways that the Bush administration, with the help or acquiescence of Congress, has turned the nation in exactly the wrong direction: entering a wrong-headed billion-dollar-a-day war in Iraq; driving our economy from surplus to a deficit now over $489 billion; dismantling key environmental policies; etc.
At this time when our nation needs some serious, fundamental changes in order to regain its true course, Howard Dean is (or was) the candidate speaking most eloquently and most passionately about change.
Unfortunately, most of what he had to say was ignored by the media in favor of his more provocative statements. Even before they endlessly replayed his overly enthusiastic late-night howl, the media had labeled Dean a hothead and a radical—labels that do not square with his record or his plans.
Take for example a typical Dean quote regarding foreign policy: “We cannot lead the world by force, and we cannot go it alone. We must lead toward clearly articulated and shared goals and with the cooperation and respect of friends and allies.
“I seek to restore the best traditions of American leadership. Leadership in which our power is multiplied by the appeal of democratic ideals and by the knowledge that our country is a force for law around the world, not a law unto itself.”
If that sounds like the same thing John Kerry and John Edwards are now saying, we have Howard Dean to thank for that.
Yes, he is a pretty good speaker—if you like your political rhetoric straightforward, unrehearsed and honest. But speechifying has never been Howard Dean’s forte. He was known during his five terms as governor as a rather dull, rather moderate fellow, who nevertheless knew how to get things done.
And he got things done. He made health coverage available to 92 percent of all Vermonters (99 percent of all Vermont children). He helped grow the economy while protecting the environment—earning the begrudging respect, but not the outright love, of both the business community and environmentalists. To do all of this, he built coalitions and consensus.
He did succeed, with his presidential campaign, in building a powerful movement. He empowered his supporters in a way that no other candidate has since Bobby Kennedy. We don’t know yet where that will lead.
Unfortunately, Dean clearly did not manage to resonate with enough voters or build the kind of grassroots campaign that could win. He made some tactical missteps and hit the wrong note on some important occasions. Perhaps he proved the old saying: The world does not take kindly to those who want to change it. He took a big risk, and it didn’t pay off.
Ah, but what a fight it was. Two weeks ago, R.T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, said this: “No matter what happens in this year, there are going to be two words that are going to tell the story of this election, and tell the story about how this country once again got its guts, once again recognized that it’s time to stand up … and it’s all about a doctor who has shown us how to find our backbone: Howard Dean.”
In November, we will happily compromise and vote for John Kerry or John Edwards. But on March 2, California Democrats, some of the most progressive voters in the nation, need to find our own backbones and vote for the best of the lot.